Last year, when the pandemic struck our lives, our festive spirits were a little dimmed. As the year was about to come to an end, people were hopeful that the situation would get better. Though stepping out was still not a very good option, people tried their best to keep up with the festive cheer by doing various things. Well, I have a confession, I was one of them. In an attempt to match the Christmas vibes in the air, I tried my hands at baking a plum cake. The process started a few days before Christmas when I soaked all my dried fruits and other things in rum to acquire the strong flavour. And finally, on Christmas eve, I baked the cake. 

While plum cake is a well-known intrinsic part of the festivities, it is the Christmas pudding that is often not given enough attention. The classic Christmas pudding of today was nothing like what it was in the 14th century. The gooey, creamy and sweet textures of the pudding are sure to strike your thoughts at once at the mention of pudding, however, that wasn’t the case back then. Did it ever occur to you that a Christmas special pudding could have meaty origins? Yes, you read that right. 

The Curious Case Of Savoury To Sweet Pudding 

One of the first puddings was prepared by the British in the 14th century and this version was much closer to porridge than a pudding. Called frumenty, this porridge-like dish filled with raisins, wines, currants and at times, beef and mutton, had a soupy texture and was treated as a savoury. It could be a meaty dish or a meatless plain pudding. This pudding also served as a breakfast meal for the people of Yorkshire on Christmas morning. 

The major precursor to this savoury pudding was that poultry like chicken and meat could be easily preserved in the form of a pudding and served to the elite as a rich fare. Gradually, the Christmas pudding saw a shift in its preparation as dried fruits started becoming available in the 16th century and served as great substitutes for honey and sugar which were costly at that time. 

Newer recipes and ways of sprucing up a Christmas pudding started emerging and by the 17th century, the pudding became an ensemble of eggs, beer and breadcrumbs, taking a turn towards the sweet puddings of today. Also known as plum pudding or pud, this refined recipe by the Victorians became a ritual for Christmas from 1650 onwards. 

Significance And Traditions Of The Pudding

Although it is called a plum pudding, the ingredients lack any plums. The 13-ingredient Christmas special pudding traditionally comprised of raisins, suet, breadcrumbs, orange peel, flour, milk, eggs, lemon peel, brandy, currants and a few others, each of which were said to represent the Jesus and his 12 disciples. This pudding wasn’t a dessert until dried fruits were added to it and it came to be known as a plum pudding without any plums. This practice was led on and the plum cake or anything which had dried fruits was referred with plum. Beef fat or suet was an important component of the original Victorian recipe which has been modified these days. The significance of brandy in the pudding is such that when the pudding is ready, the flaming brandy is poured over it to ignite the passion of Jesus Christ. A pudding cloth was traditionally used to make the pudding as opposed to the bowls of today that are used to steam it. This cloth lent the pudding a rustic texture and taste which was devoured by one and all. 

There are a plethora of traditions associated with this pudding, for instance, the Stir-up Sundays. The last Sunday before the Advent (last day of church year) is when the pudding is stirred thrice with a wooden spoon by each family member. While the wooden spoon represents the manger, the movement from east to west is symbolic of the three wise men’s journey. While stirring, not only does the person honour their journey but also make a secret wish. Along the same lines, sixpence or a silver coin was added to the pudding mixture, inspired by the chicken wishbones of 14th century. Whoever would find the coin would be granted good luck. 

Following suit of this English ritual of Christmas pudding, the Aussies and South Africans have also started prepping puddings for the festive celebrations. In fact, in Canada, you’ll find it loaded with potatoes and carrots. Be it sweet or savoury, meaty or plain, the idea behind a Christmas pudding is to bring everyone together to eat and make merry.